House Diary #2: The Site Visit

The Neighbours 2This is the second in a series of blog posts about the process of building our house on Pender Island. If I’m sufficiently dedicated, one of these should appear every couple of weeks for the next two years. These posts are likely to be longer and more contemplative than the other writing on this site. And, obviously, they’re concerned with the process of building a house on an island. If that doesn’t float your boat, skip ‘em.

Two weeks ago, my parents, Julie and I joined John, our architect for a visit to our building site. Months tends to pass between each time we visit our land, so I’m always curious to discover how it’s changed. Making certain assumptions about the Gulf Islands, I always half-expect to be chasing a bunch of hemp-clad squatters off the property. To my slight disappointment, that’s never happened.

We tromped all over our 3.5 acres. Our land isn’t exactly topographically uniform. There’s a high point–a cliff, really, and then three tiered levels down to another cliff, which drops, maybe, 100 feet down to the water. To confuse matters, the properties in this area aren’t perfectly perpendicular to the water–they’re on a slight angle. Combine that with easement roads and the fact that our lot is partially cleared, and I’ve always found it difficult to visualize the precise property lines.

John helped with this, and we constantly referred to the surveys and maps we’d had completed. We wandered over to both neighbouring properties to see what they were up to. We’ve met our neighbours to the south. They’ve cleared a building spot and are planning on starting in the fall. Our neighbours to the north spent a lot of money to clear a new access road. That was more than a year ago, and that’s all they’ve done. I must contact them to find out where they’re planning on building.

Our Building Site and Compass

John asked a bunch of questions, ranging from the practical (“Where are you thinking of putting your vehicles?”) to the abstract (“Why did you spend so much more money to live on the water?”). That latter question was something I’d never considered. I’ve lived in view of the water almost my entire life, so I never considered not living on waterfront property. Anyhow, it’s too late now. Heh.

We left John wandering around the likely building spot while we navigated our truck down the road on our property. Before going abroad last year, we traded our little Chevy Metro for an enormous, 18-year-old Dodge Ram 150, complete with cab on the back.

Big Blue, Our Big Old Truck

She’s named “Big Blue”, and she’s going to be our island vehicle until, well, she gives up the ghost, I guess. We’re parking the truck on the property until we need it. We covered it the biggest tarp I’ve ever seen.

When we walked back to the building site, John had his notebook out and was making some drawings. “I think you should put the house here,” he said, pointing to where he was standing.

Just like that.

It was a little surprising, but I guess sooner or later an architect just has to pick a spot. The spot is slightly north of where we had imagined, but I buy John’s thinking. He pointed to two striking areas nearby, and remarked that you want to build your house on the least precious ground.

Right now, he’s imagining a small, modern house with a studio workspace in a separate building. There could be a deck on the roof of the studio, to maximize our sun exposure (the property faces a very dark north-east), and maybe a little bridge connecting the main building with the office.

Our architect is working on some initial concepts, and we going to sit down with him in a week or so to review them.


  1. Did you consider any of the sort of modern pre-fabs?

    They would seem to fit much of what you are thinking of doing: small, modern + studio space.

  2. Just a note about covering your truck with a tarp… If you’ve wrapped it with a plastic tarp it will actually trap moisture and condensation inside, against the truck. Best would be to make some sort of “lean-to” with the tarp to create a makeshift car port. Some random Sunday feedback for you 🙂

  3. Michael: We may have sections of our place pre-fabbed and shipped to the site. We won’t go with an entire pre-fab because all of the ones we like are American, and there are massive import duties when you bring them across the border.

    Warwick: Thanks for the tip.

    Andrea: I should have phrased that better. He wasn’t implying that it was exorbitant, just that we could have gotten more for our money on an inland piece of property.

  4. Love reading about this sort of journey! We have friends who gutted a little yellow box just outside of Vancouver, Washington and blogged about it. We were addicted!! Keep it up!

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